Finovate Spring: A Focus on the Practical

Finovate Spring: A Focus on the Practical

Finovate Spring 2017 has just finished up in San Jose; go to the Finovate blog at for an official list of the best in show winners. My focus isn’t on individual companies, but rather the broad themes that I picked up from 59 presenters over the course of two days.


1. Practicality
There were few gee-whiz, wildly futuristic presentations. Practicality ruled: companies focused on improving processes and delivering better outcomes. Solutions weren’t necessarily sexy or mind-blowing, but potentially more useful in terms of delivering reliable if unspectacular results.

2. Employee Efficiency
What’s more practical than making employees more efficient? Very little. Presenters automated processes, improved learning, and took the drudgery and time out of many manual tasks.

3. Artificial Intelligence / Machine Learning
One way to make employees more efficient, and increase that efficiency over time, is through AI technologies like Natural Language Understanding and Natural Language Generation. To improve those, apply machine learning over time.

4. APIs / AsAService
Another way to bring new ideas to market quickly is to tap into others who’ve already built the solutions. APIs are a key way of accessing many of these pre-built products, some of which were offered as a service (think Family Office As a Service, etc.)

5. Customer Experience
In line with what banks have recently been telling us, improving the Customer Experience was top of mind for many customers. Whether making an interface more aesthetically pleasing, eliminating friction, or speeding feedback, a keen focus on enriching interactions was evident throughout the event. I’d point out that the vast majority of solutions focused on the mobile experience, so much so that it almost doesn’t merit its own mention (but, since this didn’t used to be the case, it’s worth being explicit).


1. The presenting roster was down to 59 companies from 72 last year in San Jose. While more digestible, frankly, it made many observers wonder whether this was an early sign that the fintech frenzy is moderating.

2. Other technologies that didn’t make the headlines but were present include Analytics, Biometrics, and Lending / Mortgages.

3. I’m always interested in the dogs that didn't bark. Two technologies completely absent from the roster: Apple Watch and Blockchain. Others that were surprisingly underrepresented included Voice, Payments, Branch, and Financial Inclusion. As is my practice, I jotted down a few words associated with each presentation; the results are below.

If you’d like to discuss what we say at Finovate, please be in touch and we’ll arrange some time.

Innovation & Insight Day – some highlights; and a goodbye

Innovation & Insight Day – some highlights; and a goodbye
Last week was busy for Celent: on Monday we hosted our annual Innovation and Insight Day at Carnegie Hall (more on that later). Tuesday we assembled the Celent team from around the globe for our annual in-person meeting. We find that even in this age of virtual teams and instant connectivity, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction; our gathering confirmed that. And on Wednesday the banking team convened to review our priorities and refresh our topic taxonomy – so much has changed in the last year that we knew it was time for a refresh. Keep an eye on and my newsletter for updates on our progress. For the first time in I&I’s history, we sold the place out! We’ve never had to turn people away before, and we’re (very frankly) still trying to figure out why. With more than 400 registrants, we had to improvise with an overflow room that streamed video of the main stage (thanks to all who helped us accommodate this nice problem). We hypothesize that the challenges of financial technology have become so important that our clients and prospects prioritized attendance at an event that showcased best practices from around the world, afforded tremendous networking opportunities, and provided an unbiased view of the hottest issues in this space today. It could also have been, of course, being in New York the weekend before, or seeing Carnegie Hall during business hours. The Banking Team recognized nineteen model banks across five categories: Digital; Omnichannel; Legacy and Ecosystem Transformation; Innovation and Emerging Technologies; and Payments. Interestingly, we had so many entries in the first two categories that we had to split them up. We produced six reports covering these five areas, together with our Model Bank of the Year, Fidor (from Germany). Clients may download these reports at In addition to our model bank panels we had excellent keynote speakers. Debra Jasper and Betsy Hubbard of Mindset Digital used about 300 [sic] slides in 45 minutes to prod us all to rethink how we present ourselves, not just in person, but through emails and social media. One concrete hint: think about five sentence emails ( Closing out the day was Suresh Ramamurthi, the Chairman of CBW Bank, who showed us what a sub $20mm asset bank can do by completely rethinking its technology platform. After Suresh and Fidor’s CEO Matthias Krӧner spoke, I was compelled to tweet about #nervousbankers. I’d also like to thank our sponsors: Saffron, Mindtree, Indra, Guidewire, Wipro Digital, Inetco, and RGI Group, together with our media partners Bank Technology News and Insurance Networking News. We’re already starting to think about next year’s event; it’s not too early to start submitting nominations. We’ll be sending out hold the date announcements shortly. On a final note, we’d like to say a fond farewell to Jacob Jegher. He has been a stalwart in the banking practice for the last eight years, and all of us at Celent will miss his passion for new technologies, his informed and reasoned opinions, and his keen intellect. We wish him every success in his new endeavor at a fintech player you all know; the news will be public soon. If you’d like more details, please reach out to your account manager, other analysts you know, or me directly.

Highlights from Money 20/20

Highlights from Money 20/20
I’m on my flight back from Las Vegas and thinking about how to encapsulate the highlights of Money 20/20. Its third year was the biggest yet, capped at 7,500 people (not counting the Fire Marshals patrolling the hallways). At many conferences I’m able to distill several distinct themes; this time, the overwhelming impression was the emphasis on … PARTNERSHIP Celent’s been talking about the need for banks (and others in the ecosystem) to partner better for quite a while. At Money 20/20, the word was on everyone’s lips. Discover, Visa, and a host of others mentioned their eagerness to team with other members of the ecosystem to drive more activity in ways that are better, faster, and/or cheaper. Some other random observations:
  • The big four U.S. banks sent an average of 40 attendees, with the high being 55 and the low being 30.
  • MCX said that CurrentC is in pilot with merchant employees in several cities, but missed the chance to show us a demo. And as an interesting counterexample to the partnership theme, Visa told us that they “look forward to MCX presentations so that they can learn what’s going on.” I’ll stop there.
  • Customer Experience continues to be a big theme
  • There was way too much emphasis on Point of Sale terminals – and why does every POS terminal still look like it came from 1985 (Poynte and Clover being two exceptions)?
  • What happens when there is no Point of Sale, like with Uber? (Incidentally, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has used Uber as an example over the last twelve months – I’d be on my way to Tahiti)
  • Facebook is doing some really interesting things on the commerce side: if they identify a group of profitable customers who have a certain profile (e.g., mid 30s, likes dogs and hiking), they can go find other Facebook users with the same profile.
  • Security, as always, was a hot topic
One of the things we do is attend conferences so that you don’t have to. If you’ve got questions about this or other events, please let us know.

Technology and Service Providers: Different Beats, Same Tune

Technology and Service Providers: Different Beats, Same Tune
It’s been a whirlwind week for service provider analyst days and client conferences: Friday with Genpact, Tuesday and Wednesday with FIS, and Thursday with IGATE. Each firm is trying to differentiate itself amidst all the market noise; like banks, they’re constantly resisting the grind of commoditization. And while interaction was unique and fascinating, four common themes struck me as being indicative of the massive changes going on today in banking technology. Not coincidentally, they’re all consistent with what Celent has been saying about the evolution of the banking ecosystem.
  1. Focus
  2. Realignment
  3. Security
  4. Partnership
Focus takes on different meanings for different firms, but both Genpact and iGate were very clear about where they were going to spend time and energy, and where they weren’t (banking makes the cut for both of them). FIS may seem oxymoronic because of its product and service breadth and depth, but the company appears to be making steady progress towards rationalizing a variety of disparate products obtained through acquisition. Realignment follows focus. FIS is for the first time dividing itself into three groups: North America, International, and Global Institutions (roughly the top 30 international banks). Genpact and IGATE are both focusing on nine verticals (the specific nine vary), with IGATE putting P&L responsibility with the verticals for the first time. They will both have, however, certain horizontal practices that continue to run across their verticals. Security is a key value-add for these companies; with a broader base across which to spread costs, they tend to impose attention and discipline that many smaller banks can’t hope to match. While specifics vary, all made it a point to mention their approach to security. As the issue continues to increase in importance, we think this element of their value proposition will become ever more significant. Partnership is perhaps the ultimate defense against commoditization. Each of the three firms mentioned in their first breath the desire to work with their clients as Partners. Celent has written extensively on the transition from a vendor/customer to partner/client relationship in banking, and while talking about it doesn’t guarantee execution today, it’s a necessary first step for it to be tomorrow’s reality. What will be particularly interesting is the ongoing tension between providers’ professed desire to do the right thing and regulators’ apparent wish that contracts spell out in gory detail what will be required (including who bears responsibilities for mistakes). For more, see an interesting American Banker article here: For providers, guaranteeing that they can pass regulatory muster with minimum fuss will be a key requirement as they seek to win more business. As the year continues we’ll be watching keenly to see whether other providers’ actions echo these trends, and what banks’ reactions are. As a footnote, two of the firms have taglines, one brand new, the other a bit older: IGATE: Speed. Agility. Imagination. Genpact: GENerating imPACT FIS may have an opportunity here to help define itself; right now it’s self-admittedly one of the biggest companies that no one’s ever heard of. What do you see in the marketplace? Has my quick synthesis missed a key trend? I welcome your thoughts.

It’s September, It Must Be the Start of the Conference Season

It’s September, It Must Be the Start of the Conference Season
There are so many great conferences and events throughout the year that prioritising them and deciding which ones to attend becomes a critical task for any analyst as it would be impossible to attend them all. However, no matter how well we prioritise, come September, every year most of us find ourselves travelling a lot for a few months, as the conference season kicks off in earnest. This year is no exception – you will be able find at least some Celent analysts in most of the flagship industry events around the world, from BAI Retail Delivery in the US to multiple EFMA conferences in Europe, and from SIBOS (in Japan this year!) to AFP. Many of us will also be speaking, chairing or moderating panel discussions. For example, here are some of the key events on my agenda for the next couple of months:
  • EFMA Payments World, which combines two major events at the same time: Mobile and Advanced Payments and Cards and Payments conferences – September 25-26, Paris. I will be chairing Day 1 of the Mobile Payments event, which is also where our Oliver Wyman colleagues will be presenting the findings from the Alternative Payments study conducted jointly with EFMA across Europe. I attended the Cards and Payments event last year and as I wrote in a blog afterwards, it was one of the most interesting conferences in recent years. If you haven’t registered yet, I would encourage you to consider signing up.
  • BAI Retail Payments Delivery – October 9-11, Washington DC. This is one event every year where all of Celent’s Banking analysts attend and spend most of our time meeting clients, prospects and industry experts. Drop us or your account manager a line if you would like to meet with us there, as our diaries are filling up fast.
  • Money2020 – October 22-24, Las Vegas. It’s a new event on the calendar, but considering the list of speakers and companies attending, it promises to be exciting few days.
  • ATM, Debit and Prepaid Forum – October 23-25, Phoenix, AZ. Another “must-go” on the events calendar; I will be moderating a panel discussion on merchant-funded rewards with senior executives from Affinity Solutions, Cardlytics, FreeMonee Network and Linkable Networks on the panel.
  • CARTES – November 6-8, Paris. Ian Hermon from Thales and I will be presenting at the Mobile track of Day 1 on “Who will Win in the Era of Mobile Payments?”
It will be busy few months for us all. Again, if you plan to attend any of these events and would like to meet, do let us know. Hope to see you there!